When The Atlantic published Ann-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed Why Women Still Can’t Have It All in early July, I eagerly sought out the story online so I could see if she had any answers for questions my friends and fellow working moms have looked for for years now. Is it possible to soar to the highest heights in our careers while managing our households and raising our children? And if I do, does my family pay the price for my professional success?
What if I want to be an awesome mom and an awesome businesswoman? As a Christian woman, should I weigh these things any differently from my secular colleagues?
It’s a deep and emotional struggle that I’ve carried since my son was a year old.I’d never thought twice about going back to work after he was born. After my six-week working maternity leave was up, I was right back at it, cranking out 50 to 60 hours a week in my job as a public relations account supervisor. I was in love with my new baby, but I also liked my job, even though it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to manage it all. I was nursing, I had difficulty sleeping at night, and my account work was getting backed up. Still, it never registered that something was going to give. And I certainly didn’t know it was going to be me.
I became anxious and overwhelmed. I was dropping the ball at home and at work. I would cry but never reasoned that I was doing too much. After all, I was only doing what I was supposed to be doing.
It was December, and my son’s first birthday was approaching. I was under enormous pressure at work, racked with projects and deadlines. I had a major planning meeting scheduled with a client in Vermont, and two days before I was to head out I hadn’t begun preparation. The night before my flight I was on the phone with my boss talking through undeveloped plans. The roads were icing over outside, and I could hear strange moaning sounds coming through the baby monitor. I asked my boss to hold on. I went upstairs to check on my baby, and he was a green color.
I thought the baby food I’d fed him earlier smelled weird, but I didn’t have time to think about it too much--all baby food smells weird, right? But he was sick as could be, writhing and vomiting. He was my first child, and I didn’t know what to do. And my boss was on hold and I had a flight out to Burlington at 8 a.m. the next morning and it was icy outside.
I called for my husband and told him we needed to take the baby to the ER because he had food poisoning. My husband was convinced the bug would work itself out and he’d be fine. He told me I was overreacting. And I lost it. I sobbed uncontrollably. I felt completely and utterly alone. I was 100 percent broken, but I still had a meeting to plan and a flight to catch. The bug did pass and the color came back to my son’s face, and he eventually fell asleep.
I finished up what work I could, figured out what time I needed to be out the door to catch my flight, and laid down to sleep. The next morning, I was out the door at the scheduled time, but what I hadn’t factored in was the icy road conditions. Traffic was at a standstill. By the time I got to DFW airport, my boss was sitting alone at an empty gate; the doors to the jetway had just been closed. I’d missed the flight, and she’d decided not to get on. I’d never missed a flight in my life. The look on her face was more than I could handle. I burst into tears and literally begged her not to fire me in Terminal A. She didn’t, but we both knew that changes had to be made. I was failing.
We settled on a scaled-down version of my job that allowed me quite a bit of flexibility and quite a bit of happiness. It allowed me to keep working but freed me up to be with my family.
The downside is I’ve had to accept that I can only go so far as a part-time PR professional. The upside is I get to work outside of my home and problem-solve and create in a business environment--I value having that outlet--but I get to spend most of my time with my children, who are more important than my work.
But what about my more ambitious sisters? I’ve never desired to be CEO or a VP; that is my choice. But I know many women who aspire to go as far as they possibly can in their careers--and that is their choice.
Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Meyer, made headlines recently when she announced the day after assuming her new role in one of the most powerful, visible offices in the United States that at 37 she was expecting her first child and would be taking maternity leave, but would work through it. I applauded her for her decision but even more so for her courage. It couldn’t have been easy to advise the board of her pregnancy and watch the faces in the room morph into God knows what.
Because here’s what I have come to believe: Having ‘round-the-clock nannies doesn’t make one a bad mother. It’s far worse to bridle the greatness that God has placed in us. It’s no coincidence that Meyer had what it took to break through the glass ceiling and venture where few women have gone before. Guess what? God makes strong, empowered, smart, business-savvy, glass ceiling-breakers.
When I read Proverbs 31, I see a woman who works infinitely harder outside of the home than inside of the home, but it’s obvious she cares about the well-being of her family and is diligent in caring for them. Yet, there are women who God has called to work harder inside of their home than outside. And then there are some of us who are a little of both.
As Christian women, our primary concern should be doing all things to the glory of God, following where He leads us. And whether He leads us to a high-powered position in a demanding corporate environment or to teach, nurture, and develop children into well-rounded, emotionally and spiritually healthy adults, we can rest assured that He will always lead us to green pastures and quiet waters where He’ll refresh and strengthen us for the job--or jobs--He’s called us to.
Stephanie Morris-Graves is a publicist, freelance writer, and graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and their two children.